Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If I booked Zenyatta's first date

Now that Zenyatta has stated her case for Horse of the Year with her exhilarating victory in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic, thoughts turn to the breeding shed.

While it might be nice to see the fabulous 5-year-old Street Cry mare take a shot at breaking Cigar's North American record of 16 wins in a row -- she's presently 14-for-14 lifetime, of course -- the likelihood of her ever racing again is practically zero. So, now to speculate on who that breeding date for Zenyatta might be.

Maybe it's too conventional in thinking, but I would first consider Giant's Causeway.

Zenyatta carries no Northern Dancer, so adding some over a Mr. Prospector-line mare is hard to quibble with. The cross does offer 4x4 inbreeding to Roberto and 5x5 Halo, which adds up to a linebreeding of 6S x 5S x 6D x 5D Hail to Reason.

Giant's Causeway at this writing is No. 4 all-time in progeny earnings on synthetic surfaces (one notch behind Street Cry), which should make Zenyatta's connections of owner Jerry Moss and trainer John Shirreffs happy, since they're based in California where all the major tracks are mandated to have all-weather surfaces instead of conventional dirt. But Giant's Causeway can get any sort of horse. He has multiple G1 progeny winners on dirt, turf and synthetics.

What's not to like?

Another consideration for Zenyatta, in my estimation, is to avoid the chance of adding too much size to her prospective foals. Zenyatta is as big a mare as you'll find; she stands more than 17 hands high. Sending her to a whopper of a stallion could result in babies who are so big they can't move fast enough to get out of their own way. Or that can't stay sound. Despite Zen's clearly overcoming the "too-much-size" pitfalls (perhaps in part because of masterful management by Shirreffs, who only raced her 14 times in a three-year career), it's my belief that an average-sized or even smaller horse is generally better both for athleticism and soundness.

Giant's Causeway has good size, but at 16.1 hands he isn't a monster.

In a few pedigree discussion groups, I've witnessed other recommendations for Zenyatta. One person suggested Hard Spun, who I like on pedigree. But if Zen were my mare and I were breeding to keep and race the foals -- as Moss likely will be -- then I wouldn't choose a stallion whose first runners are yet to prove themselves.

It would be easy enough to make cases for plenty of other top stallions, and for two more top choices, I would look to Awesome Again and big-splash youngster Medaglia D'Oro, the latter of whom is sire of Zenyatta's off-track (but never on-track) rival, splendid filly Rachel Alexandra.

But my top pick would be Giant's Causeway -- performance plus all-surface versatility.

Have ideas of your own? Please detail them in the comments section below.


  1. There are a couple more things to consider, IMO. The first would be Z's fertility. The second would be the life time care managers for her off-spring. I think choosing the stallion is important, but may be putting the foal ahead of the mare. I'm not sure stallion pedigree is the primary consideration. Some of the very successful "running mares" stink in the breeding shed (Genuine Risk is one that comes to mind and who I think would have given RA a real run for the money....I'm still in awe of GRs accomplishments within the context of the TC) and yet their are others (Our Mims)that bred their hearts out.

    What pedigree forums were you following? I didn't see a link and would like to read those too.

    Depending on the business arrangement, it is very possible that the connections may opt for a foreign standing stallion. Time, money and risk of transport are serious considerations (especially since we only allow live cover...STILL), but I'm thinking a stallion somewhere in the EU. Where to foal is probably somewhere in KY, but I'm not sold on that arrangement (Yeah, yeah I know...). If I were the Moss' I'd want to be able to see Z with some convenience at any time I felt like it. Hell, I might even try to find a stallion book that would be willing to ship him to her!

    D. Masters

  2. I forgot:

    (1) What female family does Z come from? and,
    (2) Do you ever read "Reines-de-Course", the Parkers?...pretty good stuff.

    D. Masters

  3. How'd I get an "and and" in there? ... Must have been the 2 a.m. writing for a 6 a.m. post. :-)

  4. Excuse me, but I asked 2 questions (plus observations previous) and all you post back is that you had 2 "and" in your original post?

    D. Masters

  5. Well, I happen to be at work. I get an e-mail prompt to approve comments, and I happened to notice the "and and" and fixed it.

    Haven't had the occasion to go into depth yet.

  6. I'd mate her to the modern equivalent of Bold Ruler. A dirt sire with sprinter speed that could also get 10F. I was thinking Ghostzapper but I did a Truenicks and the hypothetical foal got a D. Do you know of another dirt stallion with the "sprinter speed but can get a distance" profile?

    She strikes me as a mare with the large heart thing going, like Somethingroyal. So I'm thinking if she were bred to a dirt speed stallion, I can see her producing a Secretariat-esque TC winner (assuming she has no fertility issues, etc).

    BTW, your Giant's Causeway-Zenyatta hypothetical foal got a Truenicks A++.

  7. Primarily the two pedigree-related (or partially so) forums I follow are a pair of Yahoo newsgroups.

    One is called BigHorse2 -- and it deals with all sorts of horse racing and breeding issues. I'm not certain how much discussion there's been on the Zenyatta mating at this point over there.

    The suggestion of Hard Spun came from another Yahoo group dubbed TB_Breeding_Theory. The truly global membership includes nearly 100 individuals, some only fans, some very much small-timers like me, but some who are very involved at the highest levels of breeding and racing.

    Considerable discussion in a thread called "Who Will Zenyatta be Bred To?" at

    I occasionally read "Reines-de-Course."

    Zenyatta is Bruce Lowe's Family 4-r. Same family as Nearco, offhand. Though that's a-way back.

    Zen is half to the fine G1 winner Balance (by Thunder Gulch) so the Mr. Prospector line certainly worked with her recent female family. Well, her dam anyway. (And her dam also has a minor stakes-winner from the Storm Cat line, filly Where's Bailey, by Aljabr.)

    Just a generation back the family does get very "European," with several blacktype foals by Master Willie, Bering, Robellino, even Simon Du Desert. A Canadian champion, Sweetest Thing (by Candy Stripes) is also from this immediate female family.

    I figure that good as Zenyatta was, the "best to the best" theory was, well, the best place to start. And by "best" I mean, at this time anyway, a proven stallion. So I wrote off anybody just being sent to stud -- including Sea the Stars.

    I feel that it's a bit unlikely anyway that the Mosses would send Zenyatta overseas. I should think they're looking for a U.S.-raced horse, i.e., another Derby horse to let them relive the excitement of winning that race with Giacomo, and I don't think breeding in England or Ireland is at all the way to go on that one.

    The foals will start out their racing careers in California -- and stay there if they don't merit being on the biggest stages -- so synthetic for now has to be on the connections' minds. But when the horse steps OFF synthetic, it's likely to be onto dirt, not turf.

    I'd have to go with a stallion who has gotten G1 winners on both synthetic and dirt. And I like Giant's Causeway.

  8. As a big fan of the late Bold Ruler in pedigrees, I do like your thinking.

    And thanks for the Truenicks reading on Giant's Causeway with Zenyatta. I probably should have run that myself, but had decided I liked it anyway, I guess. Regardless of the nicking grade.

    I'm a believer that you can't necessarily breed two disparate kinds of horses hoping for the middle ground. For instance, I would not consider a short stallion like Birdstone for Zenyatta for fear that what I'd end up getting would be a foal who grew into her body on his stubby legs. By the same token, I would hesitate to go too much toward speed in an effort to give a Zenyatta foal the kind of early turn-of-foot his dam lacked.

    However, you did note that you sought a speedier horse who could get a 10f horse. That is -- well -- a stallion of a different color, so to speak.

    Medaglia D'Oro certainly wasn't that kind of runner; his big wins were all going a good distance and he didn't start until he was 3. But he's gotten 2-year-old winners, sprint stakes winners (particularly among his 2-year-olds of course) and certainly has already gotten "the big horse." ... He's an A with Truenicks over Zenyatta.

    Distorted Humor (mostly a sprint/miler) and Elusive Quality (same sort of runner, yet on turf) are speed horses who have given us distance horses -- in fact, each nearly sired a Triple Crown winner in Funny Cide and Smarty Jones.

    Both are A nicks per Truenicks. But I'm not thrilled with going back to the Mr. Prospector line with Zen.

  9. P.S. on Medaglia D'Oro: His best girl, Rachel Alexandra, sure has speed from the gate.

  10. I'm not a breeding expert by any stretch so I can't converse intelligently on the Mr. Prospector issue. I just remember the Secretariat breeding theory - in colts speed comes from the dad, staying (and large heart genes) from the mom.

    You make a good point on the disparate types issue. I hadn't thought of that. She just seems to have so much staying potential. If she were mine my biggest worry breeding her would be accidentally producing another Giacomo, a real grinder but lacking speed.

    (I'm the one that posted as anonymous earlier, couldn't figure out how to enter my name.)

  11. Indeed, Giacomo was a grinder with no early speed.

    So amazing to see a horse win from off the pace as he did in the Derby. And as Zenyatta does every time.

    But having pushbutton tactical speed would be the ideal.

  12. I've really been thinking and researching the best match scenario for Zenyatta since your post was featured on Paulick. It's been fun and frustrating at the same the Moss' really need our help!

    What I wanted to say was that while the "True Nicks" resource is fun (and depressing based on my selections...many got "C" and "D" grades), two came through with an "A" (I'll let you find them). I was just wondering, based on all my concerns about moving the mare, taking here out of training (she really needs serious let down time and a regular job, not just turn out), etc, would there be a California Sire that might have some consideration (nominations, etc included)? Referencing "True Nicks", they don't show all new (which is worth the look) or stallions unsubcribed to "True Nicks"...also, let's remember, it's a computer program for God's Sake. There are many great horses that came from unconvential matings. I respect the human input formula, but animals like those defy "conventional" all the time. Yeah, I know...why take that risk. How about for the mare?

    Assuming Z has been running on approved drugs like Lasix/Salix and/or Regumate, the fertility may be a bigger issue for the "Amazon". And if she is not given a work routine, even in the breeding shed like daily rides or longeing, I think she'll lose her mind just eating grass and mating after the track.

    But it is fun to hypothesize...any good CA Stallions you know of?

  13. Hey man nice article. I'd love to see Hard Spun get a hot date with Hasili if she's still producing. All those full brothers - dansili,cacique,champsillyze?,etc... I don't know for sure if theres any big breeding no-no between the differences in Hard Spun from his sire, but if not and she's still producing - it seems good in theory.


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